I vividly remember the days after my first husband and I divorced and the feeling of dread that came over me realizing that I was without the security that marriage had provided. In addition to being worried that I might turn into a bag lady, I dreaded being a fifth wheel, losing status in society. Single women without wealth were disregarded, looked at with some pity. The city where I lived, or any city in the US, functioned strictly as a couples‘ place.
I had heard before we moved here that there are more single women than men in San Miguel, the ratio being 4 to 1. The first joke I heard about San Miguel de Allende, and one I’ve heard repeated many times since, is one my friend Cynthia Claus wrote about in her book, “A Lifetime to Get Here.” It goes something like this, although I’m not quoting exactly. A woman in San Miguel notices a man about her age sitting by himself at a cafe and approaches him. “Are you new in town? I’ve never seen you before,” she says flirtatiously. “Yes,” the man answers. “ In fact, I just got here today.” “Where did you come from?” the woman asks.” “Actually”, the man admits, “I just got out of jail.” “Oh, what were you in jail for?” “I killed my wife,” the guy answers. “Oh!” the woman says, brightening. “So that means you’re single!”
But single women who have moved to San Miguel from the States that I have met here do not share this attitude at all. They are not looking to hook up with a man. They do not feel less than their coupled friends because they are alone. Here, because there are so many single women, they have a voice and a power and opportunity and there is no pressure to find an available man. And there are many lesbian women here, in couples and those who are single. single women have come here, like the men, because of the four Cs: climate, cost, culture and community. And the women stay. Life is affordable. They don’t need a man to work on their house. They can hire excellent workers cheaply, or they rent a house and have a house manager take care of everything. If they don’t want to own a car or drive, they can walk wherever they want to go. They don’t need a man to drive. There is a sense of community, hands reaching out to welcome them. They work on developing themselves as artists, leaders of organizations. Some start businesses or volunteer in organizations. There is plenty of need. The feeling is that whatever they choose to do they can.
That is not the case for most Mexican women. It is a very Catholic country and city, dominated by the intimidating presence of the church. Mexican women are still traditional, seeing their role at home, taking care of their husband, having and raising children. They feel sorry for the poor unmarried women, at least on the surface. They have accepted the fact that many of the men come and go from their marriages as soon as their wives get pregnant with yet another child. One Mexican mother of a school age boy who is single explained that in her parents’ generation there was no work available to the men and they all went to the States, most as undocumented workers, and stayed away for years before returning. She said that still the single Mexican women outnumber the men and the women live with their mothers, spending free time with other female friends. “Where are all the men now?” I ask. She shrugs. “I don’t know where they are.”
Yesterday I was sitting on a bench in the central square and two beautiful young women wanted to know if there was room for them next to me. “Yes, I said. “Is that your husband, one asked, indicating a man around my age sitting at the end of the bench. “No, I said. “At least not this time.” They laughed and one nodded. “It’s good to have options,” she said knowingly.